Guests of Madame Guillotine neatly splits the narrative into three parts. Ian, Barbara and Susan have been taken to the Conciergerie Prison in Paris – Ian is put into one cell and Barbara and Susan are deposited in another. William Russell was the last of the four regulars to take his two-week holiday, so Ian only appears briefly on film for the next two episodes. Although his mission (entrusted to him by a dying prisoner) to find an English spy called James Stirling will prove to be significant later on.
Barbara and Susan are placed in the dingiest, most rat-infested cell, all because Barbara refused the lecherous attentions of the Jailer (Jack Cunningham). The Jailer is generally regarded as a humourous character (he’s later comprehensively bamboozled by the Doctor) but he’s a little more sinister and threatening to begin with. These early scenes at the Conceirgerie are a little grim anyway, since there seems to be no way that Barbara and Susan can avoid losing their heads.
SUSAN: Oh, what’s the use? We’ll never get out of this dreadful place.
BARBARA: Oh, you mustn’t lose heart, Susan.
SUSAN: I’m not going to fool myself.
BARBARA: Well, think of the times we’ve been in trouble before. We’ve always managed to get out of it in the end.
SUSAN: Oh, we’ve been lucky. We can’t go on being lucky. Things catch up with you.
BARBARA: I’ve never heard you talk like this before. You’re usually so optimistic.
Given that Susan is the much more experienced traveller it seems strange that she’s presented as the defeated one. Later on she reacts with terror at the sight of some rats – which stops Barbara from attempting to dig her way out of the cell. Although given the tools they had, it would have probably taken her years! These are further moments which probably wouldn’t have been viewed favourably by Carole Ann Ford, as they reinforce the notion that Susan is easily the least resourceful of the TARDIS crew.
Whilst the others face an anxious time in prison, the Doctor attempts to make his way to Paris. He’s rescued from the farmhouse by a young boy called Jean-Pierre (this is a touching scene with Hartnell and Peter Walker. As they part, the Doctor asks the boy his name. “I shall remember. Yes. Jean-Pierre. Au revoir, Monsieur Captain”).
We then see the first bit of location filming used in the series. It’s only a few scenes of Hartnell’s double strolling down some country lanes but it really helps to open things out. This then leads into one of the comic highlights of the story. Although Hartnell often referred to himself as a straight actor, he had a great flair for comedy (not really surprising since he started his career playing in stage farces). Spooner had obviously been quick to recognise this and gives him some first-rate material here.
The Doctor runs into a party of men toiling on the road, supervised by a brutal Overseer (Dallas Cavell). No surprise that the Doctor can’t resist sticking his oar in. “If you were to expend your energy helping with the road, instead of bawling and shouting at them every few seconds, you might be able to get somewhere. Good day to you, sir!” But when the Doctor is unable to produce any papers to prove his identity, he finds himself press-ganged into the working party.
The Doctor manages to effect his escape by convincing the Overseer that there’s buried treasure close at hand. When the Overseer bends down to take a closer look, the Doctor bashes him over the head with a shovel! The rest of the men are shocked (“sacre blue” they naturally say) and run off. As does the Doctor, once he’s mischievously put two gold pieces on the unconscious Overseer’s eyes. It’s highly entertaining stuff and was obviously a stepping-stone to the even broader comedy of Spooner’s next script, The Romans.
The time-scale for this episode is a little odd though. The others appear to arrive in Paris at the same time that the Doctor is extracted from the burning house. This clearly makes no sense, so it appears that Guests of Madame Guillotine is hopping backwards and forwards through time. Well, this is a time-travel series I guess ….